Cybercrime is booming. Official statistics showed that one in ten people fell victim to online fraud in the 12 months to July 2016. So, how can you avoid becoming one of them?
First, most of us have woefully simple passwords that hackers crack in seconds (the two most common passwords are "123456" and "password"). To keep your accounts secure, you need to have complex passwords, which should not all be the same.
Try using the first letters of the words in your favourite line from your favourite song. So, a Queen fan might go for ITTRLITJF from Bohemian Rhapsody. Change some of the letters for numbers and symbols, and then use a different song for each of your accounts. Also consider using a password manager, such as 1Password, to store your passwords. This permits you to use long, complex passwords such as rqzudZYVBgxduCjMBbRB9ePk which will be more secure than any password you can remember.
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Second, make sure you use anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software on your computer. These help protect your system against malicious programs, which may install themselves on your computer via dodgy links and downloads, allowing criminals to monitor your computer use to harvest personal information. Some banks also recommend that their customers use specific security software to help keep online accounts secure. However, security software is only worthwhile if you keep it up to date, to ensure you are protected from the latest attacks.
When online, make sure a website is secure before you enter sensitive information. Look for a locked padlock symbol in the address bar of your browser or bottom corner of the window and check the full web address begins with "https" rather than "http" these denote that the communications between your browser and the site are encrypted.
Finally, be aware that if you are the victim of cybercrime because of mistakes you made such as disclosing your passwords your bank may try to avoid refunding your lost money. So make sure you take precautions and be wary of popular scams.
Three common scams and how to avoid them
"I'll send a courier"
You receive a call from someone claiming to be from the police or your bank. They say they need to replace your debit or credit card and will send a courier to collect your old card. They often try to reassure you by saying you should call your bank to verify this call is genuine. When you hang up to do so, they stay on the line and you end up speaking to them again instead of your bank.
Then they ask for your address and your PIN code. A courier arrives on your doorstep, takes your card and delivers it to the fraudsters (sometimes without knowing their own role in the scam). Your bank or the police would never send a courier to your home or ask for your PIN. Hang up on all calls like this.
"Your account is vulnerable"
You receive a phone call or text message saying that your account is vulnerable and your bank needs to move your money to a secure account. You are given the new bank details and asked to move the money to this account, which belongs to the fraudsters. People have lost tens of thousands of pounds from this scam. Again hang up. If you are worried, wait a few minutes before calling your bank. Call from a different phone line to make sure the criminals aren't still on the line.
You receive an email purporting to be from your bank, which says that there is a problem with your account and asking you to click on a link to resolve it. The link will either install malware on your PC or take you to a fake website. Never click on links in emails always type your bank's website directly into your browser.
Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance.
Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.
Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.
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